I had the great alternative to satisfy with Jenny Conlee and talk about her new album Tides: Items for Accordion and Piano which will probably be launched March twenty fourth. The proficient artist is most nicely referred to as the accordionist and keyboardist of The Decemberists, however her new album showcases her unimaginable skills as each a composer and solo performer.
The album is split into two components. The primary comprises a collection of songs for accordion within the seven Greek scales. Every one is supposed to evoke completely different points of nature.
Therefore, they usually all invite us to hearken to and recognize the accordion in a brand new and thrilling means. Within the second half, Conlee switches to piano and works with ostinatos (repeated melodic phrases) for 5 magical items, meant to hypnotize and encourage.
Throughout our dialog, Conlee defined that as a result of Covid restrictions made working with a band almost inconceivable, the inventive course of for the accordion items was fairly distinctive. “I utilized for an artist’s residency.
Items for Accordion and Piano
There’s this actually funky classic trailer park known as the “Sou’Wester” on the coast right here in Washington. And it is like thirty classic trailers… very arty. They’ve somewhat music venue…somewhat artwork gallery. So about thirty artists get collectively for every week they usually put you up and then you definately do a proposal and on the finish of the week you do a efficiency” she instructed me.
The piano items, alternatively, had been written over the previous three years. Conlee described her behavior of gathering little “track seeds” in her on a regular basis life. “With the piano ones, I simply type of acquire. I am at all times simply type of writing little piano issues.”
A part of what makes these twelve songs so particular is how a lot inventive freedom and management Conlee had with the venture. Not like her work with bands or her final solo album French Kayaking Music (the soundtrack to the movie Voyagers With out Hint), the tales Conlee instructed had been fully as much as her.
“Due to the character of the timing after I wrote these with Covid, I needed to do one thing by myself, and that was the time to do it. It was unclear whether or not we had been going to have the ability to get again collectively once more and make music.
So I feel the most important distinction is that it is all me and I will be performing it and recording it… the one information is me. There is no movie I’ve to comply with… it is like simply have a look at the hawk, what would the hawk say? After which how would you interpret that?”
Conlee additionally spoke somewhat on sure challenges that arose via being so unbiased. “It was all only one take so I needed to get via the entire track, and that… that is laborious. And likewise the music is technically tougher on this report in order that’s one thing it’s a must to take into consideration typically.
Like watch out what you do to your self.” As well as, she stated that these items “had been extra nebulous. I feel it is tougher to simply seize concepts out of the universe, thus why I give myself constraints corresponding to modes or material.”
Inside these self-imposed confinements, nevertheless, Conlee discovered the chance to discover her musical inclinations and discover a deeper sense of self. “I feel there’s extra me [in the album]. I let my tendencies fly. I used to be similar to ‘this is my concept! Let’s maintain it!’ ” For instance, when writing the piano songs, she seen that she’s drawn in the direction of ostinatos within the bass.
“I spotted how a lot I am doing that and that is why I ended up calling them 5 Ostinatos.” The impact of this can be a very cohesive report. “The songs all stay in a single home. All of them have related vitality and melodic content material.”
This isn’t to say in any means, nevertheless, that the items do not stand on their very own. Conlee is a masterful storyteller, even with out phrases. “Wanting Glass”, the fourth piano piece on the album, particularly stood out to me.
At first, her melodies are dreamy, legato, and lightweight, sweeping you into a relaxed earlier than crashing into harsh dissonance and eerie remnants of the preliminary sounds. We finally return to the unique phrase, but it surely has modified barely. It clashes extra continuously, and is now not paying homage to a dream.
After I requested her in regards to the track, her rationalization matched precisely with the story the music instructed. “I used to be employed to compose that piece by a gaggle known as “Twist Out Most cancers” which pairs musicians with folks coping with most cancers and then you definately attempt to inform their story.
I used to be the primary musician they used for that course of as a result of I’ve had most cancers in my previous in order that they introduced me in.” Conlee was paired with a younger girl who detailed her journey with most cancers to Conlee. “[This woman’s] life was sort of cruising alongside till the announcement of her most cancers which is the sort of crunching sound.
It is like this sort of dreamy sort of ‘oh right here I’m in life’, and then you definately hear the darkness of the analysis… After which she realizes (as a result of [she and her husband] had been making an attempt to have a baby) that, oh, she can have a baby; that is the massive large open space that will get again to the primary theme once more which is again to life. Nevertheless it’s somewhat bit darker now, sort of like there’s this new edge to it. So I attempt to sort of comply with these life occasions of hers in that piece.”
Hawk Dorian – Items for Accordion and Piano
Her storytelling skills are additionally discovered within the accordion items. “Hawk (Dorian)” soars and dives, evoking photographs of the highly effective fowl on the hunt, “Sundown (Ionian)” builds and expands with wonderful coloration, and “Ocean (Mixolydian)” strikes in waves, climbing and receding, and mimicking the seas unpredictable temperament.
After I requested Conlee if she went into the residency figuring out which points of nature she would pair with which modes, she stated that she simply let herself be impressed by the world round her, besides for 2 songs; “Sand (Aeolian) and “Wind (Phrygian).” ”
The one that actually made me really feel like I have to do that was “Sand”, with the tremendous excessive notes, on aeolian. That mode appears so otherworldly to me, in order that appeared like the best factor.”
With a purpose to clarify her inspiration for “Wind”, phrases had been inadequate. As an alternative, in a magical second, Conlee’s accordion appeared out of nowhere. Lifting the large instrument onto her lap with relative ease, she started to play me the phrygian mode that impressed the creation of her wind track.
The phrygian mode is simply so unique to me due to this half, she explains as she performs. “I used to be like I have to make that [mode] the wind track as a result of it has that like… [she plays the scale]… I imply I suppose what I am doing is imagining it has a whirling dervish one thing, or some sort of a desert genie or one thing.”
The accordion made a number of different appearances as she spoke about her songwriting course of. “To be trustworthy I typically begin my accordion music on piano as a result of it is somewhat simpler to see what is going on on.
Piano and Accordion
Then the hazard of that’s that perhaps will probably be too laborious for the accordion. [Piano and accordion] each do their very own issues nicely, however a c to a c sharp is very easy on the piano whereas a c to a c sharp on the accordion is the furthest leap you may make due to the way in which it is arrange. So yeah it’s essential watch out of these issues.”
We completed our dialog by discussing what’s subsequent for Conlee. First, she is trying ahead to her upcoming reveals, particularly her March twenty sixth present in Portland, Oregon, at The Previous Church and her present at The Royal Room in Seattle, Washington, on April thirtieth as a result of they each have lovely grand pianos.
“Like I simply performed these items in Eugene at a performing arts middle, however they did not have a piano so I used my keyboard and it is simply not the identical”, she defined. “I am trying ahead to these reveals, and the opposite ones too.
However I look ahead to these as a result of [they’re] tremendous professional rooms with nice sound engineers. It is actually essential to have the sound be good as a result of it isn’t a rock present, it is a listening present, so it is good to have an surroundings the place it is a sit-down quiet kind of area.”
As soon as her solo stuff is over, Conlee hopes to put in writing for her band The Jenny Conlee Quartet. The group consists of piano, clarinet, accordion, drums and bass, however has but to launch a report. “I need to do a report for the band subsequent time as a result.
I need to do extra band reveals, and so I feel I would like to put in writing music for the band to ensure that the band to love have a track to play, ? … As a result of I actually get pleasure from performing with a band as a result of solo efficiency is so hectic” she stated with amusing. “I wish to share the strain with everybody on stage.”
And in excellent news for The Decemberists followers (like myself), Conlee confirms new music is coming quickly. “We [The Decemberists] did a tour final summer season, only a quickie august tour, and we simply began recording within the studio final month for every week and we’re simply beginning our new report.
So I am unsure when that can get carried out, we’re positively not near being carried out, however there’s positively new songs within the works, in order that’s thrilling.”
Within the meantime, do not be scared to work some accordion music into your rotation! Jenny Conlee is a singular expertise who approaches accordion music in an highly effective, unique, and revolutionary means. You possibly can stream “Hawk (Dorian)” now, and remember to look out for the whole Tides: Items for Accordion and Piano on March twenty fourth. You too can catch Conlee touring on:
March twenty sixth – The Previous Church, Portland, OR
April twentieth – Charlene Larson Heart for the Performing Arts, Astoria, OR (w/ Casey Neill)
April twenty second – Brewvana, Prosser, WA (w/ Casey Neill)
April thirtieth – The Royal Room, Seattle, WA (w/ Casey Neill)
Aug. 19-20 – The Cotati Accordion Pageant, Cotati, CA